(I apologize in advance for the heteronormativity of this post: the one demographic TV doesn’t seek to analyze is sexual orientation, and so I’ve written the post from a heteronormative standpoint because I’m attempting to analyze the thinking of a heteronormative industry.)
From what I’m hearing and seeing on LiveJournals, Michael Shanks spent a significant amount of time in nothing but boxer shorts in his recent guest appearance on 24 (see the footage on YouTube). First Casino Royale, now this. Now, clearly, not every woman is going to find every man attractive in skivvies – nor do I suppose every naked and semi-naked woman on TV “does it” for every man watching – but as Reb said of Daniel Craig: “I appreciate the effort“. Yeah – ’bout damn time.
It’s not just that the guys aren’t wearing much. It’s also how the camera ogles their bodies, the way it’s been ogling women’s for all these years. This is important: whether you consider it objectification or just visual appreciation, one of the problems with it has always been that men in mainstream American TV and film were immune to this treatment. What was good for the goose wasn’t good for the gander, and that sent a clear message: that men were above being eyecandy, but women were good for little else. Or that the male gaze required vast pandering, but the female gaze should focus on the sock darning and leave the LustyVision to men.
Of course, we still have a long way to go. Britain and other European countries have long been featuring hot young men in the buff or in eyecandy skin scenes, but the US has never picked up the trend for fear of alienating male viewers. This may just be a yet another test that the audience has been set up to “fail”, to prove that pandering to the male gaze is the only way for TV to go, and they can’t help it, oh well.
It’s worth noting one difference between these two projects: in Casino Royale, the nudity did not come from sex scenes (some were supposedly filmed, but they didn’t make the final cut or DVD extras. In 24, the male eye candy was attached to sex scenes – despite the fact that 24 doesn’t do sex, like, ever. This suggests to me that 24‘s main goal was to throw some sex into an aging show, but at least they had the sense to realize they might as well show off the man’s body as well as the woman’s, while they’re at it.
What I think we’re seeing here is an experiment: will men watch a hot sex scene with a mostly-naked woman if the camera also takes its time with the mostly-naked man? Can you bring in women without alienating men? Have they finally felt the eyes of the female gaze boring into their backs and realized it doesn’t have to be men vs. women – that a smart show can attract both and double its audience?
At this point I’ll take a moment to acknowledge I’m not hoping this leads to lots and lots of nudity in every film and show. Honestly, it gets tiresome. Sex scenes – so rote, so formulaic and choreographed to look pretty – get very old. In my ideal world, nudity would not be relied upon as much as it is now for a cheap thrill, and it certainly wouldn’t exclusively feature beautiful people (see my Full Monty article). But it would most definitely include a roughly equal number of men and women.